[Campus commentary]Overcoming miscommunication

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[Campus commentary]Overcoming miscommunication

I like sweet bulgogi and spicy kimchi. I don’t mind the smell of garlic in food at all,” said a tall foreigner with curly blonde hair, big blue eyes and a fair complexion. Such foreigners are no longer unfamiliar to Koreans.

This became especially true with the rising popularity of KBS’s “Misuda (Chatting Beauties),” a talk show starring foreign women, mostly exchange students, from different backgrounds.

In this famous show, about 15 women share their experiences of culture shock, miscommunication and other misunderstandings in halting Korean.

Cultural differences from all over the world are the theme of this show. By watching it, we have a great opportunity to understand different cultures.

In one episode, a Japanese participant said, “At a party, I learned that recommending a drink to others is a way of getting closer in Korea. In addition, the party got better as it continued all night. But Japanese drink only when their condition allows it.”

Well, that was one difference we caught onto easily. But that was only after a misunderstanding existed already, and someone had to talk about it to sort out the misunderstanding.

Sometimes, even though I intend to say something in a positive way to others, it can come across negatively, particularly when I am talking to a non-Korean. Why is this?

Professor Lee Han-gyu of the communications department at my school, Kyung Hee, says its only natural that misunderstandings occur because language reflects culture, including people’s history, thoughts and rules.

“If a misunderstanding occurs in small talk, a miscommunication will definitely occur, especially in cross-cultural communication,” he said.

Another example of a miscommunication is that in Korea, age is considered an important factor because hierarchy is adopted everywhere ? in one’s career, education and even within the family. Younger people use honorifics when addressing their older counterparts.

Thus, it is natural for Koreans to ask even a stranger’s age. We don’t mean any offense, but Westerners often think that it’s unpleasant to ask personal questions on age, marital status or family affairs. To them, everyone can be a friend.

The way you greet someone varies from culture to culture. In Korean, “Have you eaten already?” has two different meanings. One is just a way of saying hello. The other is that if you haven’t eaten already, then let’s dine together. However, in English, people greet each other by saying, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?”

If people don’t understand Korean culture and misinterpret this greeting, then they miss out a big part of Korean communication.

There are many reasons miscommunication occurs, both between people from different countries and between family members.

Different cultural backgrounds, lifestyles, personal thoughts, character and childhood experiences affect the way we communicate.

This means no one is the same as another person.

In her book, “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” Dr. Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, writes that although she loved her husband, they couldn’t overcome their miscommunication. Eventually, they separated. But when she began to study linguistics, she understood why their marriage failed and realized their faults.

This book, based on her experiences of marriage, became a best seller.

*The writer is the vice editor of University Life magazine at Kyung Hee University.

by Yoo So-hee
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